Easy on the lies.

Hey, did the 9/11 fairy leave new renderings under your pillow too? So best. Splashed on the back cover of the Observer is a glorious testimony to the skill of the Dream Team of architects, the indomitable spirit of American can-do, and the awesome hardware capacity of dBox. It is also the first time we’ve seen anything that details the ground level conditions at the World Trade Center site.

Over the past couple months we’ve been seeing more details (albeit in a tertiary way) of what the actual streetscape would be, each seemingly a counter-argument for limitations we haven’t yet seen fully explicated. Just about this time last year (or was it the year before?), the last futile attempt of New York New Visions to impact the planning process made it pretty clear that security considerations were going to keep street life to a series of cordons leading to buildings wrapped in prison quality sheathing at the base. But no one wanted to say for sure. Excuses about ‘too early’ were offset with ‘we really are worried and working’ which no one took as a good sign.

The new renderings from last week, along with Childs’ most recent emanations, tout lots of glass, which is the sign universal symbol of powerful, elegant, affluent modernism. It also enables you to create nighttime renderings that shine like an Aldus lamp.

The most exciting thing I could find is sadly underreported: apparently rebuilding the World Trade Center not only requires moving heaven and earth – it is actually going to happen. With nary a dollar of funding from the state DOT, and defying all altimeters known to science, the new site is so incredibly flat. The sixteen to twenty foot elevation change running from Church to West Street is now a couple delicate steps at the corner of the Liberty and West Streets. See, this is what you get when you hire European architects. They must do their calculations in metric or something.

Lots of other things have gotten flatter as well. Bollards, for instance, are slim, or actually invisible now. As are control gates in the pavement and armed guards. Maybe that’s why everything is so expensive. Though the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets require physical interventions and personnel presence that make the security tighter than a joke about a nun’s sexual habits, the new WTC will be a gracious, flat esplanade that is so dignified that even Roberto Cavalli will only want signage facing Church Street (that’s an obscure one, I know: when doing speculative renderings, you usually get faux retailer logos, but either as a joke or because someone at dBox fancies Cavalli — a clothing line best summed up as ‘where Italian-Americans on gambling junkets in Vegas go with their winnings to upscale their personal appearance’ — it appears prominently in one of the street-level renderings).

So we are faced with one of two unpleasant options: one, the money shot, Numero Uno at Freedom Focus is either two years out of date from the current security technology and it’s too late to revise the designs again, or it is only a short truck (bomb) drive from the most secure office building ever built to three, nearly as large, that are some of the most insecurely designed since the dawn of the Age of Terror. Oh, or the renderings are lying. There’s always that.

It’s not an insignificant point, as always. We went through two rounds of substantial redesign after the NYPD wasn’t seeing turrets and water cannons at the Freedom Tower. Everyone at PANJNY has been as mealy-mouthed as possible about the actual street conditions. At this late stage, we still get delicate renderings of the PATH station resting on the plaza, even though it’s been said more than once that the first ten to twelve feet of the façade will be completely opaque. And what of all that extra ground that Calatrava needed for exhaust stacks and light monitors? It sure looks like it’s gonna be dark in the billion dollar concourse.

There’s no evident security or control at either end of the new Greenwich Street, and no controlled access to the Memorial. Silverstein’s gambit of rebranding the World Trade Center as TriBeCa South (hey! Never forget! Until it means we can get reservations more easily at Nobu, or something) is certainly in line with the new look. But they didn’t need to get all clever about the addresses — they just need to make sure the streets are empty after five and that Law and Order shoots there every other week. And some Maclaren strollers filled with kids named Tristan.

I’m not saying I think we need all that security – or, hell, even the cultural center, which doesn’t clutter up the renderings (if you are keeping score, it’s a net gain in office space from the previous incarnation, with a reduction in open space and no new programmed spaces exclusive of offices; I’m not counting the Memorial Foundation Remembrance Space, because for all we know, Debra Burlingame might not even let us in). And feds seem to foot the bill for a big chunk of the guns and butter showcase, so it’s no skin off our tax bill. But can we the get some realism injected into our planning? Do we need scary looking control gates and overweight, ex-football coach-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder security guards on every corner that doesn’t have a full-gear guardsman with an assault rifle or not? And if we do, how about we show that while drumming up support for our funding? That two billion dollar overrun could go a long way towards improving airport access.

Now is also about the time we should pause and give a shout out to the sad sacks at Beyer Blinder Belle. Even as the steaming teapot that is Rafael Vinoly continues to opine that he won the design competition, I suspect he will get little support or complaint from the Libeskinds at this point, though he might get a little guff from BBB. Because if anyone wants to dig out those renderings that made the entire city, or at least Michael Sorkin and the people who still return his calls, rise up indignantly and declaim that we couldn’t possibly begin to consider a memorial or rebuilding process, let alone one that seemed to roll over for both the most craven of commercially-driven design and the saddest aspects of no-account cross-border state bureaucracy, well, welcome to 2007, where we aren’t just capable of it, but enthusiastic. Of course, BBB didn’t presage the grandeur that is the PATH terminal, which now is so glorious it costs just a hair more than it would take to rebuild every school in the New York City education system. Oh, and boy, it surely isn’t as soary now that it’s hemmed in by Foster and Rodgers. They even did a special rendering to prove that our billion dollar spines will still be able to open and not hit a Forever 21 (okay, there isn’t a Forever 21 in the rendering; it’s Hot Topic).

Expect to hear muddy praise from what is left of the architectural commentariat, invoking Rockefeller Center and forgetting that the last vestiges of it was the Avenue of the Americas side. Sure, hire four top notch corporate lackeys and they produce top notch corporate lackeydom. After the abortions of Hudson and Atlantic Yards (I’m still crossing my fingers for a collapse in the CMBS market that will submarine this), you would think someone in the shitty New York real estate press would up and say ‘Hey, guys, is there a reason we are trying so hard to emulate Canary Wharf and La Défense? Cause those places, you know, suck.’ But we are New York; we’re going to make sure our Canary Wharf sucks bigger and better, longer and harder, etc.

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